“WELCOME to the Championship.”
That was Aitor Karanka’s opening gambit, muttered under his breath as he exited the Elland Road tunnel to address the media after Middlesbrough’s 1-0 defeat to Leeds United.
There was a sense of injustice in defeat, after Boro had been denied what appeared to be a legitimate goal scored by Albert Adomah in the first half.
But with a draw seemingly on the cards, Leeds struck in the 85th minute when Billy Sharp tapped home after Tomas Mejias spilled Michael Tonge’s long-range effort.
A defeat was harsh on Boro, but Karanka was more worried that his side were taught a lesson by Dave Hockaday’s side at Elland Road than the ruling out of Adomah’s goal.
“We didn’t play well,” said the Middlesbrough manager.
“We didn’t have that many chances. The first 25 minutes we looked better than they did, we scored a goal, which I don’t understand why it was not allowed.
“We’d have been happy at 1-0. We had been playing well before then. The first goal would have been important.
I can’t understand why the referee waited five or six seconds to whistle, the linesman was running back to the halfway line – that, I can’t understand.”
He added: “I would have liked us to play in our way.
Passing, with movement, and we started to play in their style, with long balls and going for second balls, and we are not strong enough to play in that style. I asked them to play in our way. Sharp is a goalscorer and he scored the goal that beat us.
“We played 25 minutes in our style, then we scored the goal and the game finished for us. I tried to change it by bringing Clayton on, Emilio [Nsue] and Luke Williams but it was difficult to change the dynamic.”
Adomah acrobatically volleyed home after George Friend’s throw in made its way across the box with 25 minutes on the clock, but referee Stuart Attwell ruled the goal out for dangerous play – in that Adomah’s foot was too high.
Boro’s ‘goal’ came after Leeds saw a shot blocked on the line with only 70 seconds on the clock, after Sharp, on his Leeds debut, was played in, denied by Mejias, before Nicky Ajose followed up from the rebound where Daniel Ayala cleared.
After Boro’s disallowed strike, Leeds seemed to spring into life, with Tommaso Bianchi drawing a save out of Mejias on the volley and full-back Sam Byram firing wide on the half-hour.
Adomah was undone by some superb Leeds defending on the stroke of halftime when Grant Leadbitter threaded a ball through to the Boro winger, who was closed down adroitly by Whites defender Stephen Warnock.
Both teams struggled to match the intensity of the first half after the restart, with Jason Pearce registering the first meaningful chance after 79 minutes after Attwell had dished bookings out to Leadbitter and Friend, the Leeds defender heading just wide from a free-kick.
New Boro defender Damai Abella and Leeds United’s Nicky Ajose
Adam Clayton came on for his first piece of Boro action since sealing a midweek move from Huddersfield Town, and the former Leeds midfielder almost led to a Whites goal when his shot was blocked and cleared up the pitch, where fellow debutant Damia Abella miscued his pass back to Mejias and his Spanish compatriot only just made the clearance.
And the goalkeeper was at fault for what turned out to be the winning goal, when Tonge, a second-half substitute, rattled a shot in that Mejias could only parry straight into the path of Sharp, who made no mistake to tap home.
Kike, bidding to be the first Boro player since 1919 to score in his first three games for the Teessiders, spurned a late chance when he curled high and wide of Marco Silvestri’s goal, while Friend’s effort at the death ricocheted off Ayala who was offside.
Karanka refused to blame Mejias for the error that led to Leeds’ winning goal, adding: “I don’t like to speak about one player. I didn’t want to speak about Kike last Saturday, and I don’t want to focus on one particular error in our play.
“We lost. I am more concerned that we didn’t play in the way I know we can, it’s a game that we’ll have to learn from.”